Wrapping Up Genesis.
Ah, the final chapters of Genesis. I don’t know about you but I was seriously beginning to doubt we are going to get here, but here we are. It’s the end of the beginning. There are a few separate pieces here, but for the most part, we will deal with Jacob’s blessing to his sons, and how the different translations handle them. There are interesting things and beautiful things and a few that don’t make much sense. Forth Eorlingas!
Jacob knows he’s dying so he gathers all his boys together to “tell you what is to happen to you in the days to come.” They gather and Jacob begins a poem. He must have prepared in advance for it’s long and detailed. It’s part blessing for those sons he favors, part curse for those who displease him and part prophesy. Some of it is quite beautiful, some of it funny, all of it purely human.
First, he hands down a few judgements, for as we know, some of his sons have not made him happy. In his sights are Reuben, Simeon and Levi. Those of you who were paying attention will remember Reuben slept with his stepmother, if that is the term, Dad’s concubine anyway. Not that I can pass judgement on Jacob for that would irk me also. Levi and Simeon massacred the entire village of Shechem through pure malevolence and deceit because the chief’s son raped their sister. These things did not please Jacob for he said:
“You, Reuben, my first-born, my strength and the first fruit of my manhood, excelling in rank and excelling in power! Unruly as water, you shall no longer excel, for you climbed into your father’s bed and defiled my couch to my sorrow. “Simeon and Levi, brothers indeed, weapons of violence are their knives. Let not my soul enter their council, or my spirit be joined with their company; For in their fury they slew men, in their willfulness they maimed oxen. Cursed be their fury so fierce, and their rage so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob, disperse them throughout Israel.
This is actually very human and even kind of cute. Jacob by this time is your typical grumpy old man and he’s going make sure he gets his last jabs in before he goes. You can just envision him poking them with a cane as he’s shouting out his curses. How can you not like the phrase “unruly as water?” That’s perfect. I’m sure my son is going to be well sick of it before he’s thirteen.
Jacob’s last statement to Levi and Simeon was quite just. They were murderers, after all. What else could you call the murder of a village for the crimes of one. I do enjoy the lines “For in their fury they slew men, in their willfulness they maimed oxen.” Like the slaying of men and the maiming of oxen somehow are on an equal plain. You slaughtered dozens of men, and to top it off ,you kicked their cats. Bastards! For some sick reason this strikes me as very funny.
Not quite as funny as this next. Other versions word it a bit different but you have to love the poetry of the NAB version here.
The scepter shall never depart from Judah, or the mace from between his legs, While tribute is brought to him, and he receives the people’s homage.
This particular translation is almost like biblical porn. Read it again if you don’t think so. I’ve been a construction worker far too long not to see the perverted side here. Homage indeed!
As a great demonstration of what the different translations actually say, and of course, further evidence of a lack of God’s hand in the inerrancy of this book, I’ll print out a few
NAB – Issachar is a rawboned ass, crouching between the saddlebags. When he saw how good a settled life was, and how pleasant the country, He bent his shoulder to the burden and became a toiling serf.
NASB –Issachar is a strong donkey, Lying down between the sheepfolds. “When he saw that a resting place was good And that the land was pleasant, He bowed his shoulder to bear burdens, And became a slave at forced labor.
NKJV –Issachar is a strong donkey, Lying down between two burdens; He saw that rest was good, And that the land was pleasant; He bowed his shoulder to bear a burden, And became a band of slaves.
You can clearly see the differences here, and how if you hang on every biblical word as if it’s a wizard’s spell there will be discrepancies and disagreement. History has shown how violent that disagreement can get.
Take Joseph’s blessing as another example. For good measure, I’ll give you a couple translations of this too.
NAB –Joseph is a wild colt ,a wild colt by a spring, a wild ass on a hillside. Harrying and attacking, the archers opposed him; But each one’s bow remained stiff, as their arms were unsteady.
NKJV – Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a well; His branches run over the wall. The archers have bitterly grieved him, Shot at him and hated him. But his bow remained in strength, And the arms of his hands were made strong.
A wild colt or a fruitful bow? Which? And the last part seems to say the exact opposite in the rival versions. If God does not lend his will to keep these to rival translations straight, how do Christians think that his will kept it honest up until that point. I mean that if there are discrepancies now, why do they think there weren’t compounded errors all the way through? When exactly did the errors start? When did God stop watching? If someone can answer these questions, I’d appreciate it.
Anyway, some of these blessing are quite beautiful. The end of Joseph’s is my favorite.
With the blessings of the heavens above, the blessings of the abyss that crouches below, The blessings of breasts and womb, the blessings of fresh grain and blossoms, The blessings of the everlasting mountains, the delights of the eternal hills. May they rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers.
Don’t mean to be a sexist pig but the “blessings of the breasts, and of the womb” sound damn fine to me. Speaking of sexism, anyone else notice that Dinah was not present? As a mere woman was she not worthy of blessing? Even a goodbye? By all the evidence — no! Sorry. Ladies need not apply.
From here on, each of these sons are to be the foundations of the twelve tribes of Israel. Well, kind of. The twelve are mentioned several times in the Bible but often a slightly different set are listed. Sometimes Joseph is omitted, sometimes Reuben, sometimes another. For even more confusion, try reading it from a Christian point of view. Please read this, it’s worth the laughs.
Finally, Jacob dies and is carried to the very same cave which Abraham bought to bury Sarah. All of the Hebrew men and many prominent Egyptians travel to Canaan to mourn for Jacob. It was a huge funeral with seven days of mourning and much to do. Afterward,everyone returned to Egypt.
Now the brothers are again a little nervous that Joseph may get his vengeance on them for the old selling-him-into-slavery-incident. But they have little to worry about for he forgives them entirely.
Years later, Joseph dies, and on his deathbed, he prophesies the Israelites exodus from Egypt and demands they take his bones with.
Joseph is dead along with Jacob and Isaac and Abraham along with their kin folk and women, both named and unnamed. Genesis is over and Exodus looms large with its burning shrubs and plagues and parted seas, and of course, lions and tigers and bears. Oh my. But before we go, I think a brief overview may be in order next.
Nothing like a good look back before we move forward.